Ah… Independence Day.
If ever there were a holiday built especially for Manward, this would be it.
We cherish our Liberty. It’s the tincture that charges our soul – the cordwood that keeps our fire burning.
A man must be free. His independence must be enduring.
We often look at this nation’s grandest holiday as its birthday. We celebrate the action in Boston, in Philadelphia and in Yorktown.
Surely those are the towns where the flag earned her stripes.
But it’s what happened on this day 156 years ago that’s on our mind today.
The Bloody Face of Liberty
On July 4, 1863, the battle was over.
The cannons were quiet. The bayonets were sheathed. And the soldiers stayed in their tents, hiding from the pouring rain – or perhaps the gruesome scene outside.
By all counts, the battle of Gettysburg was a killer.
In a war that turned brother against brother and countryman against countryman, the battle that occurred in a wheat field just south of town was more than a turning point in a war; it was a turning point for the very idea of independence.
As Meade chased Lee into Pennsylvania’s rolling hills, the citizens of the town peeked out their front doors, strolled into the streets and followed the lingering smell of war toward now-hallowed ground.
What they saw was a new face of Liberty.
The scene was horrific. Thousands upon thousands of wounded men were lying amongst the dead.
Muskets, cannons and the sundry tools of death were strewn across Little Round Top’s rocks and boulders. The men who carried them in were no longer able to carry them out.
It would take months to properly bury all the dead.
Yes, on that crazy July 4, independence took on a whole new meaning.
The Price of Freedom
The scene that day – the battle’s lonesome encore – symbolized the great struggle of the war.
Both sides fought for freedom.
Both sides put their lives on the line for what they knew to be right.
And as the warm July rain washed away the blood, both sides marched south, wondering whether the loss of their brothers, their friends and their fellow soldiers was worth it.
The question on that dreary July 4 wasn’t one of who won and who lost. No, that would be decided much later in the war. The question was whether the toll of war was worth it.
Did those thousands of men die for naught?
Was true independence for every man truly obtainable?
Was the rain-swollen creek at the bottom of the battlefield running red in vain?
On July 4, 1863, the big battle was over… but the war still raged.
In fact, many feared – despite the grave loss of life – that our nation’s great war of ideas would never end.
Is It Over?
While the cannons are quiet these days and the states are united, many of the ideas behind that devastating war are still slipping from American tongues today.
They still question the very premise of our nation and the size and shape of our government.
In fact, the folks who monitor such things recently revealed that a full third of Americans now think a second civil war is “likely in the next five years.”
That’s scary stuff.
So as we celebrate our nation’s independence today, we implore readers to understand the war is not over… nor, we would argue, are any of the wars so many of our heroes have died for.
We can’t allow any of those men to have died in vain.
For if we allow our Liberty to wane – even a bit – the ideas they so stoically marched toward will fall.
As he looked over a huge, freshly filled cemetery on the outskirts of Gettysburg, President Lincoln summed it up well.
It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain…
Cherish our independence. Cherish our Liberty.